Film Review: The Neon Demon

The Neon Demon

Nicholas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon is a triumph of style over substance. The narrative may be thin, but the film atones for this with its sumptuous imagery…

Jesse moves to Los Angeles with the dream of becoming a model. Her youth and beauty are an appeal to those working in the industry. However, Jesse’s appearance also captures the eyes of those with more nefarious plans…

Following on from Only God Forgives, director and co-writer Nicholas Winding Refn latest also favours imagery over dialogue in his latest film. Dialogue and narrative take a backseat to visual engorgement in The Neon Demon. The film has overtones of a rock opera in its thematic style and delivery.

The Neon Demon begins as something of a cautionary tale of narcissistic folly. Young and inexperienced, Jesse begins her modelling career with little knowledge of the pitfalls of the industry. There is danger all around for the protagonist, which manifests symbolically as well as physically. The film ends up in a much darker, and absurdist, place than the opening third betrays. Refs turns the symbolic into the literal as the film progresses. The preoccupation with youth and beauty is played out to horrifying effect.

Cliff Martinez’s score is excellent. The music really compliments the tone of The Neon Demon. Production design is superb, crafting a distinctive look for the film. Rein’s film works in contrasts; the innocence of the Hollywood Hills scene is a distinct contrast to the final scene, in composition, sharpness, colour and tone. Performances in the film are stilted, but this is seemingly deliberate. Elle Fanning is well cast as protagonist Jesse. She shares some of the film’s most natural scenes with Karl Glusman’s Dean.

There are small laughs to be found in the absurdity of it all. For the most part, however, The Neon Demon is a strangely engaging film. Allowing for the absurd and the risqué, the film is a worthwhile endeavour for the style alone.